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Sam Mewis retires due to knee injury: Her legacy as a serial winner

The former USWNT midfielder, World Cup champion, and three-time NWSL champion was robbed of her prime years, but she is still a Hall of Famer

Sam Mewis dribbles for the USWNT at the 2019 World Cup.
Michael Chow-USA TODAY Sports

World Cup winner and three-time National Women’s Soccer League champion Sam Mewis has retired at age 31 due to a knee problem that has lingered for the past six years, she announced on Friday.

Mewis was a fixture in midfield for the Western New York Flash/North Carolina Courage franchise and she was a starting midfielder for the United States women’s national team in its 2019 World Cup triumph. She was considered one of the best players in the world during her 2020-21 season at Manchester City in England.

All the while, however, she played through knee pain. Mewis has, over the past two years of inactivity, gradually shared more of her struggle publicly. On Friday, she made official what had been coming: playing again was no longer an option.

“With both sadness and clarity, I am retiring from professional soccer,” she said in a statement. “Unfortunately, my knee can no longer tolerate the impact that elite soccer requires. Though this isn’t what I wanted, it’s clear that this is the only path forward for me.”

Mewis already has a new career lined up as the editor-in-chief of the Men in Blazers’ new women’s soccer vertical, The Women’s Game.

Mewis’ last game for the U.S. was the Tokyo Olympics bronze-medal match in August 2021, which the U.S. won, 4-3 over Australia. She soon underwent knee cartilage surgery and returned to the field quickly. She was traded to the Kansas City Current the following offseason but played in only two Challenge Cup games for the team before shutting down for the season due to her knee.

Last year, Mewis announced that she had another surgery in January 2023 and that she did not have a timeline to return.

What is Mewis’ legacy?

Mewis is a star whose career was cut short by injury, a tragic and too familiar narrative. Her last appearances before two years of inactivity saw her playing her best soccer to date; she was in her prime. Mewis towered over most peers in midfield but had the technical ability on the ball and the vision to execute important, incisive passes with precision and poise.

Her emergence ahead of the 2019 World Cup was quietly an important part of the U.S.’ triumph in France that year, as then-head coach Jill Ellis settled on a midfield of Mewis, Rose Lavelle and Julie Ertz. The trio balanced each other perfectly, with Mewis as the fulcrum connecting the team’s lines.

The world truly took notice of Mewis when she went to Manchester City and dominated play in England. She had already done that in the NWSL as a three-time champion, and her ability to replicate those performances in Europe proved further how multi-dimensional her game was.

Much of the talk around the problems with the United States’ midfield heading into the 2023 World Cup was about the absence of Ertz as the No. 6 (she eventually returned to the team and played every minute as a center back), but Mewis’ absence was equally felt. That Mewis’ absence was not more of a topic spoke partly to her humility as a quiet superstar.

Mewis was a winner everywhere she went. She won an NCAA title with UCLA, six NWSL trophies, a senior World Cup, and a U-20 World Cup with the 2012 squad that was viewed as the last generation of complete domination for the U.S. at that level. Mewis even won an FA Cup (which was delayed by the pandemic) in her first months at Manchester City; she scored in the final.

It has been nearly two years since Mewis last graced the field. That this news was a matter of when not if, doesn’t quite soften the blow — certainly not for Mewis, nor for fans who harbored hopes of her return. Despite the injury robbing her of her prime years of soccer, she is — and I say this as a voter from the past few years — an obvious Hall of Famer. The day she puts on the red jacket will be one to celebrate.

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